Saturday, January 27, 2007

book covers

As I'm not still a child, I may simply misremember, but I do not believe I would have picked up a fiction book based on the cover if it had a photographic image on it. A photo is fine for a nonfiction book, but fiction is displaying imagination and the cover should too. That's why this story that children prefer photographs on covers doesn't sit right with me.

As I think back, the idea of a photograph on a fiction book makes me think of Babysitter's Club. This is a series of books I never read, so all impressions of them are prejudiced. The impression I had of them was as something prepackaged and formulaic. I looked at these books and deeply suspected that the heart of each one was the same story. I don't even remember if they had photos on them, they probably didn't. I don't remember anything actually having photos on the cover. There's a few other popular series of books that others have read happily, but when I saw the extremely uniform packaging that implied uniform insides, I wanted to run for the hills.

I also remember the first book I stole off my dad's shelf, a direct result of the image on the cover. It may not have actually been the first, just the important one, but it is the one I remember as the first. That image was the Josh Kirby cover for The Light Fantastic. I wanted to read the book that had the nerve to wear a cover with so much character on it.

Pan's Labyrinth

I've been chewing at this one for a couple weeks, too. It seems to be up for awards now, and lots of them.

The craftsmanship of this movie is excellent. I don't think I've seen a more mature use of computer graphics. Everything fits seamlessly into the film. There probably is a lot of CG in this, but you know it because you can't do that sort of thing with makeup alone, not because it stands out.

I went into it warned that this is a violent movie. Indeed, it is so. Not in an overall way, most of the time is not spent on violence. However, much of the violence is intense. This, too, is well crafted. The most gruesome bits that some folks have reveled in showing onscreen where images tend to just seem over the top is left just offscreen where the imagination can supply a full 3D rendering that is about as nasty as it can get without ever being over the top. The thing is, I have mixed feelings about well crafted violence.

But that is just background scenery, and a lot of it. The heart of the movie is the girl's imagination. Or perhaps it really is a fantasy and the heart is the challenges she must face. I quite liked the first. It is probably a variation of a tale told many times, but it was new to me. The second certainly has elements of old tales and was highly unsatisfying to me (see below). The less said about the third, the better.

Spoilers below.

spoilers be here

I'll let the first challenge, a tale of using greed against the greedy, stand on its own.

The second though... she failed. I'm sorry, she did. The movie ended there, too bad, so sad, she never got out. And then she cheated and the rules, or whatever, allowed her to. The consequence of eating the food from a realm you don't belong in is to never be able to leave. She seemed well read enough to know that, too. And even with that, they trapped her another way but all she has to do is draw another door to get out? What was the point of the timer.

I'll leave the third challenge alone as well, but for different reasons. I just don't want to talk about it.

Pulpatoon pilgrimagE

Pulpatoon Pilgrimage is a little book I picked up after trying to find out what other things Joel Priddy has written after reading the Free Comic Book Day offering The Preposterous Voyages of IronHide Tom. So far as I can tell, this and some pieces in a couple anthologies is all there is and it is sometimes very hard to get hold of an anthology from Adhouse. There should be something called Redwald the Rooster, but I have never found it.

Just seen as artwork, the book is very simple. However, it is not just the panels but how they follow each other that is supposed to draw you to this book, and how they go together is exceptional. It's rather stunning how much story has been fit onto these few small pages.

Boldly, a world is created and populated with there characters on a journey. Each character is unique and the reason for each journey unfolds in dreams or memories as the ink fades, or in stories the characters tell as they journey. Multiple stories can be told at once, as is the nature of the beast of comics, and Priddy pulls this particular feat off with great skill.

Some stories are told in detail, others with great abstraction. They are all enjoyable. I'm very happy to have read this little book.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

flight ritual

I think it was the time I was in a big plane that someone felt needed two performances of the safety talk for everyone to see that I noticed this. They didn't bother to place two sets of attendants along the aisle to do it; they just ran through the program quickly so that it could be performed twice while the speech happened once. Of course, this completely removed all meaning from it and turned it into a sort of ritual.

Here is another take on the dance of the flight attendant.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Complete webcomics

This is at least a little bit cool. Someone has been taking the time to index completed webcomics. So if you want to go off and read something without having to follow it daily or some other time increment while knowing that it does come around to some sort of ending to form a complete story, this would be the place to find it. On the other hand, it will never give you the pleasure of reading something you like slog along year after year never getting anywhere until finally the lack of any movement in the story drains away any sort of pleasure that was once contained...

Um, yeah. Okay, I'll stop there.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


These people with their current mood icons bouncing, bouncing, bouncing, make it stop bouncing! And all the rest of their tools to express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, whim of the moment, whatever (there's plenty you can do on a blogspot, it just takes a little (too much) technical know-how) and want me to read all about it... don't actually post.

Maybe it's all "friend locked". Well... well... two can play that game! Not that I will, but I could!

Doesn't matter, I'm getting the hang of my RSS feed reader. Thinking I prefer the RSS to the atom feed, but everyone seems to have both, so I'm allowed. Used to just have The Beat and Comics Worth Reading and my cool artist blogs on there. Now I have a little separator and everyone's journal and the general comments feed for here. So I know what you are doing. And you aren't doing anything! But I'll know when you do finally get around to something.

Isn't technology grand? We can broadcast today's thought in the general hope that it might actually get to the people it is aimed at and completely forgo the part where we actually talk to each other! Ah, progress.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Prestige

"Nobody cares about the man in the box."

The Prestige is a fairly complicated movie, not for plopping down in front of and letting it wash over you. It has earned the tag "too complicated" a few times, but I loved having something intricate to actually pay attention to and leaves me still able to remember what happened a month later, which is now.

In an intricate story, the true nature of self sacrifice is explored as the rivalry between two magicians, one time partners, finally reaches its calamitous ending. It is quite amazing to watch as the pieces of the story fall into place.

But with all that, is there ever a time when just a little too much is asked for the suspension of disbelief? For me, there was one sticking point. It is still highly recommended.

Spoilers nearly on the level with telling the ending of The Sixth Sense follow! You have been warned!

click for spoilers

This move focuses on the realities of magic, not the illusion. The background is dirty, the foreground is gritty and poor, birds die for the illusion of vanishing, and occasionally there is a human toll. In one scene, children are delighted by a magician while the sharp eyed child is horrified. In this movie, you are made to be the sharp eyed kid and see the part which is not pleasant.

It is into this hyper-reality that we introduce, by the character of the real person Nikola Tesla, (a man who brought such pittances as alternating current and radio into the world, as well as, yes, the Tesla coil,) the doubling machine. It is supposed to be a transporter, which is unfortunately something Tesla really did work on, but sometimes "reality" is harsh.

Now, we are asked to believe in transporters from time to time. Mostly in space opera where a teleporter manages to "beam" a bunch of men, and sometimes a woman, to the surface of a planet far below with such accuracy that the men neither fall slightly as they land or have their boots fused to the ground below. It is just one more absurdity in an otherwise unreal world. I've even seen this sort of doubling machine as transporter. I don't recall now what book/story, but I remember that it was used as the means to cross the spaces between stars and since, for whatever reason, you can't allow two of the same people to be running around the universe, the original was flash burned. But this is a movie that is otherwise making an effort to be firmly stuck in a world where the laws of physics are, well, laws.

So we have a doubling machine. For better or for worse. After that I just want to hit the character using it. He says he would be so scared every night wondering if he would be the prestige, or the man in the box. Dude, it's a perfect doubling machine. It is a mathematical certainty that you'll be both. Once the doubled man exists, it is "you" and experiences, with mathematical certainty, the crowd applauding. With the same mathematical certainty, you've dropped yourself in a box of water and experienced drowning. However, since that doesn't last very long, the man who continues on never has to actually experience it.

That's the whole point, though. The nature of true self sacrifice. He believes himself to be sacrificing greatly when he has actually sacrificed nothing. There is always a prestige in his trick and it is always him. Meanwhile, his trick has some collateral damage that leads to us seeing what true sacrifices have been made in the name of a teleportation trick.

Though one has to wonder how he managed not to appear at the end of the trick the one time his original was found drowning... probably noticed the man who went into the wings instead of back into the audience. Still an incredible movie.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


This being sick thing is making me so tired. Not "Oh, it's 1 AM, I am so sleepy!" tired. Nothing useful like that. It's just that when I get to the top of the steps and then down into some seat for one of the job talks (apparently Chemistry needs a theory guy who doesn't qualify for senior citizen discounts), it seems to take half the talk for the ol' heart to slow down again. Now that's not right. I wonder if it's due to these strange cold meds. They're not the kind you can cook up into meth, you see. I would be happier with them if they had the yummy candy shell on them like the ones you have to ask the pharmacist for. If I had those, I'd know it was due to the strange cold meds.

I do seem to finally be getting a nice 8 hours of sleep, though. From 2 AM to 10 AM, to be sure, but it's sleep. Not to be frowned at.

Also, bread is yummy. Molasses and sugar to make it all sweet and oats to make it need more water than silly recipe says and cold to make it rise not so well as it should. Brrrr. It's 38F already and the early morning is still young. This winter seems colder than usual.

Dear diary,

"What a day it's been."

If I was to use this as a journal, I'd have have to talk about things like "Making some sort of sweet oat bread today. Silly recipe wanted only 3/4 of a cup of water to wet 2 cups of flour and another 1/2 cup of oats! Can you believe that? Yeah, neither could the bread maker. It was really straining, so I gave it at least an 1/8 cup more, and it could have used still a bit more. Poor thing." Now, wouldn't that be boring? Well, fine, I can do that too.

In other news, I got this nifty addition to my template. Unfortunately it doesn't do well at the whole not putting a link on archive page posts that don't have bits to expand, but it works great on the first page. But only if you've got java script on. Otherwise you'll either be forced to see or never see spoilers I may post and hide in such a way as, well, this.

Monday, January 15, 2007

And that!

What good is Amazon Prime if you can't get Palomar shipped for free?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ooh, ooh!

Hey, I didn't know that was available in English. I want that! And that! And that! And maybe even that! Maybe I should make a wish list for mommy. Sounds like so much work, though, and I'm sort of sick.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

boo, tags

What is this? I can't use a "!" in a label? I suddenly feel so limitted in my expression.

Breaking things!

Something smelled funny yesterday when all should have smelled of nitrogen gas. What does nitrogen smell like? Well, as it's 80% of the atmosphere, you're smelling it right now.

And my heater has infinite resistence. Whoops. Burn, baby, burn!

So now I'm looking for thermal glue. But not just any. It has to have thermal conductivity at 77K. And not crack and do bad things while getting there. And stick to the Kapton the flexible heater is made of. So I squeezed out some thermal paste meant for heat sinks and smeared it around evenly and hoped for the best.

So now I should go check on that second heater, make sure it's all working well instead of having infinite resistence too. But I feel sick and this batch of tangerines isn't as juicy as the last. I would feel so much better if the tangerines were properly juicy.

My life is so hard! But it's fun to get to play with actual equiptment in the lab again. Okay, calculations are fun too once they get around to working.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A woman of convenience

I probably shouldn't be reading about comics. But I did. And they seem to insert diversity, at least in the form of gay characters, when it is convenient.

So they've made themselves a gay Batwoman. She's got a lead role and everything, that's nice. And she's got an old flame: Renee Montoya. She's the cop from Batman: the Animated Series and although she is background, she features strongly in a few episodes. She's a very strong character and works in a "man's" job. Of course she's gay. It's very convenient. I suppose it gives a certain uniformity to the outlook of police force?

Still, she is a pillar of morality doing what is right for society rather than what is right to make a quick buck against a background of extreme corruption. Do you have any idea what sort of strength of character that takes? If you are a straight woman (or a man) looking for a role model like Montoya and can't because she's been written as gay, you are a twit. Her sexuality doesn't matter, it's just very convenient.

(Apparently she's not such the pillar of morality later in life, but I've only read that on Wikipedia. The circumstances of that do seem to make it just more convenient for the writers, though.)

(Also, I suppose this argument could be taken further to point out that being on the moral high ground was the woman's job when this country was born and it wasn't a new idea then. Even now, corporate whistle blowers are very often women, as an example. Of course the character written to have no inclination to graft was a woman. Also very convenient.)

A second bit of convenience occurs in Heroes, the TV show. Here we have a character who has successfully battled off one aggressive challenger to her chastity and is finally starting to see the geeky boy helping her out as, well, male. And she even tries to ask him out to the dance at which point we discover, or at least are treated to stronger hinting than usual, that he is gay. And as a supporting character specifically supporting a character shedding the impurities in her character, that's very convenient. Save the cheerleader, save the world? Apparently, but first get her nice and high on a pillar of purity.

Unfortunately, there's no thin line to walk for this. No balancing act good enough, no stepping clever enough. No right answer. You can please some of the people or none of the people. Is a fictional universe really large enough to accurately or meaningfully reflect the diversity in society?

And Hollywood should get past heavy hinting.